If Everything's Doing So Great, How Come I’m Not?

We're ceaselessly told/sold that the U.S. economy is doing phenomenally well in our current slow-growth world — generating record corporate profits, record highs in the S&P 500 stock index, and historically low unemployment (4.9% in July 2016). 

While GDP growth is somewhat lackluster by historical standards—less than 2% in 2016—it's growth nonetheless. And the rate of consumer-price inflation is hovering around 1%; negligible by historical standards.

But this uniformly positive statistical view of the U.S. economy raises a question among those not in the top 0.1%: If everything’s going so great, how come I’m not?

Whether it's struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living, a 0% return on savings, working longer hours while real wages stagnate, scrimping to pay back education loans, despairing at the abuses of power in our banking and political systems, or lamenting the loss of nourishing social interaction in our increasingly isolated and digital lifestyle — most "regular" people find their own personal experiences to be at odds with the rosy "Everything is awesome!" narrative trumpeted by our media.

The Scorecard

To get a more concrete understanding of this gap, let’s establish a scorecard we can individually fill in to make an assessment of just how well we’re doing.

The key point about such a scorecard is this: We can only optimize what we measure. If we don’t measure (for example) leisure time and well-being in our assessment of Are we doing better than we were 10 years ago? then those issues simply aren’t considered.

And this is the flaw in using broad, easily-fudged statistics such as the unemployment rate as the primary measures of how great we’re doing (or not). What actually matters in life—our experiences, our stress level, our leisure time, our well-being and our sense of security, to name a few—is completely ignored by statistics such as GDP and unemployment.

I propose that a more accurate assessment requires responding to this list: Are you better off than you were 10 years ago in 2007, and 16 years ago in 2000?

  1. Has the purchasing power of my earnings increased or declined since 2007 and 2000? That is, do my monthly earnings buy more healthcare insurance, college tuition, shelter and other goods and services than they did 10 and 16 years ago?

Here are a few charts to help you answer accurately:



These charts make it clear that real income (i.e. purchasing power) has declined markedly while big-ticket costs such as healthcare have skyrocketed for the majority of American households.

  1. Is the quantity of packaged goods you buy now the same or less than in 2007 and 2000? That is, does the package that once contained 16 ounces now contain 14 ounces or even less?
  2. Has the quality of goods and services you purchase now better or worse than the quality you received for the same share of your earnings 10 and 16 years ago? Do appliances last as long as they did then, or do they last longer? Do electronic devices last longer than they did in the past? How about furniture, clothing, etc.?
  3. Does your children’s education better prepare them for a fast-changing economy now compared to 10/16 years ago?
  4. How much shadow-work (to use Catherine Austin Fitts’ apt phrase) do you have to do now compared to 10/16 years ago? By shadow-work we mean work that was once done by businesses or the government that you must now perform yourself: pump your own gas, etc.
  5. How much time do you now spend trying to fix administrative errors and things that are broken: incorrect billing, computer patches that don’t fix the problem, etc.?
  6. Is your overall health and well-being better than it was 10/16 years ago, or worse? (Of course we have to allow for the advance of age, but the question is about how you feel and whether you now must deal with chronic diseases, pain management, etc. that you didn’t have 10 years ago.)
  7. Is the quality of your healthcare better or worse than 10/16 years ago, in terms of cost, waiting time, co-pays, accuracy of diagnoses, ability to book an appointment in the near future, etc.?
  8. Is your local infrastructure better or worse than it was 10/16 years ago? Are the roads better maintained, the trains and buses cleaner, the service personnel friendlier and more helpful?
  9. Are your local government services more or less costly than they were 10/16 years? Have fees for water utilities, garbage pickup, license renewals, parking tickets, etc. gone up about 1% or 2% annually, in line with official inflation, or have they leaped by 5% or more year after year?
  10. Are you receiving more government services for your increased property taxes? If so, precisely what services have been improved/added as a result of your paying higher property taxes?
  11. Do you feel the safety and security of your neighborhood has increased or decreased? Do you safer walking home at midnight or less safe compared to 10/16 years ago?
  12. Have the odds of a secure retirement with an income that will easily keep up with real-world inflation (around 7% annually) increased or decreased compared to 2007/2000?
  13. Has your income on retirement money—IRAs, etc.--in bonds and savings accounts risen or declined?

  1. Do you have more leisure time or less leisure time than 10/16 years ago? (Subtract the time spent on social media.)
  2. Do you have more vacation time, and more money set aside to actually take a vacation with your family compared to 10/16 years ago?
  3. Are you sleeping more or less than 10/16 years ago? (Sleep is a good indicator of health—poor sleep is highly correlated with poor health and chronic diseases.)
  4. If you liquidated your stock holdings and retirement funds invested in stocks, are you wealthier (adjusted for inflation) than you were in 2000 and 2007?
  5. Have you been able to save more annually now than you could 10/16 years ago?
  6. Has your household debt load (student loans, mortgages, vehicle loans, consumer debt, etc.) increased or decreased since 2000 and 2007?
  7. If your equity in real estate, stocks and bonds has increased, what (if any) improvements to the household did you fund with this “wealth effect”?
  8. In terms of income, equity and exposure to risk, are you more financially secure or less financially secure than 10/16 years ago?
  9. If you are more secure financially, how much of this financially security is the result of family gifts or an inheritance?  How much is the result of higher real earnings? How much is the result of rising equity in real estate, stocks and bonds?
  10. Do you feel more or less stress due to overwork, time pressure, financial worries, etc. compared to 10/16 years ago?
  11. Are the people you associate with—colleagues, friends, neighbors, extended family members—experiencing higher levels of stress due to health crises, financial insecurity, overwork, etc., or are they generally experiencing less stress and chronic anxiety?
  12. Do you have more time and money to invest in self-care (enrichment classes, concerts, fitness, hobbies etc.) or less time/more time for free-ranging, leisurely conversations with friends?
  13. Is housing more affordable (to rent or buy) or less affordable than it was in 2007 and 2000?
  14. Do you have more close friends or fewer close friends than you did 10/16 years ago? (A close friend is defined as someone who is always welcome to sleep in your guest room or on your sofa, someone with whom you can speak openly and truthfully about difficult emotional/financial issues.)
  15. Do you feel your prospects—for greater financial security, higher earnings, career advancements, personal well-being, health, fitness and ability to help family and friends—are better or worse compared to 2000 and 2007?
  16. Do you feel the prospects of your children and grandchildren are brighter or dimmer compared to 2007 and 2000?

If you're healthier, wealthier, more secure, have more leisure, more disposable income, less debt, a wider circle of intimate friends and are confident the future holds better prospects than it did 10/16 years ago, then — Congratulations!—you're doing great. And if you're still in the work force, you’re in the top 5% of American households:

Alternatively, if you’re retired with multiple ample pensions and/or you sold the modest home you bought decades ago for $100,000 for $1,000,000 or more, and you live in an upscale neighborhood, then you very likely feel that life is good and the future is bright.

This sort of security puts you in the top 10% of the nation’s households.

If you paid off the mortgage, have decent healthcare insurance and live in a place where services are available and affordable and you have a secure income, then you probably feel things are going well, too.  This puts you in the top 20%.

But as many of you know from personal experience, a great many people who appear to “have it all” are struggling with financial crises, health crises, chronic stress due to financial insecurity, etc.

Some relatively modest percentage of American households are doing great—the thin slice that owns most of the nation’s wealth and thus has benefited from rising real estate, stock and bond prices. Another modest slice is doing well because they have secure positions in academia or the government, or if retired, draw ample pensions and healthcare benefits and have paid off their mortgage. A tiny slice has become multi-millionaires in the latest tech boom.

While the view might be great from the top of the wealth/income pyramid, it takes a special kind of self-serving myopia to ignore the reality that the bottom 80% (or bottom 95%, depending on what you measure) are not doing so well.

In Part 2: The Keys To Prosperity, we provide guidance on strategies for how those 80-95% of us can position our efforts, our capital, and our mindsets in order to make the major macro trends in play work to our favor, and secure a prosperous future. 

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/if-everythings-doing-so-great-how-come-im-not/

One other one I'd add is how much space you have in the city. Here in vancouver we've seen absurd levels of growth over the last couple decades. Parks that I used to be alone in are now full of throngs of people. Previous wilderness areas now have freeways and real estate suburbs. The authorities tell us all about how growth is  necessary for job creation and economic health. Vancouver has the worst traffic congestion in North America I believe. Transit is always playing catch up. Everyone complains and debates how best to accommodate that growth. I have never heard anyone take a step back and question why we actually need this growth. That's blasphemy. The answer is because economists are completely inept at managing an economy that isn't growing. Rather than admit this, they lie and cheat us. The Chinese are here buying everything up sending prices to the moon. I missed out on that, I rent. We're told this is good for the economy. Maybe good for the real estate developers who are in bed with the corrupt government. 
Personally, I can say I am better off financially than I used to be only because I am now in my prime earning years making tons. I don't have a mortgage, I'll wait for that bubble to run its course before getting in. But I'm under no illusions, ultimately my job in engineering is mostly funded by a growing economy. That's what is keeping canada going, real estate speculation keeping the trades and engineering designers going as new infrastructure is needed. As commodities have crashed along with out natural resource raping industries, our treasonous government brags about how we have the lowest unemployment rate, but that's all from an unsustainable real estate bubble which will hurt badly when it crashes. But the average pleb doesnt understand this and will likely vote the crooks back into office next term. 

One thing I have noticed in 33 years' practice as a physician is the enormous rise in prescriptions for anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, chronic pain and drug addiction (both illegal and prescription drugs).  These conditions have always been present in a proportion of the population, but not in the vast, frightening numbers we see today.  I can't imagine that 100,000 years of human evolution have evolved so many of us to be like this.  We don't have any adequate tests or biochemical explanations for this, but I am sure it is related to our lifestyles.  However, these conditions do contribute to economic growth / GDP because they create jobs in the biomedical industry, so they would be counted as a plus factor not a minus factor in economic assessment.

The accuracy of the reported GDP growth of 2% is dependent on the accuracy of the reported CPI number of 1%.  If the Reported CPI is an accurate measure, the GDP growth may te accurate also.  However, if a CPI number of 8% more accurately reflects reality, then a more realistic GDP growth number is -6%.
After all, the inflation rate is used to deflate the raw GDP numbers to determine real GDP growth.  You can't misrepresent inflation without misrepresenting GDP growth.

We are somewhere right below the top 20%, with modest income and assets, until the federal government, or the Fed/Banks change the rules again for the worse.

How many retirees are going to make it with no social security payments and negative interest rates?  How many will survive bail ins the banks may use to cover bad derivative investments?

I'll repeat my old mantra.  Social Security is NOT an entitlement program, at least for us.  We just require the money back, that we were required to pay in for 40+ years.  Of course we won't get it, in real dollars at least.


How Much Gold and Silver You Need for the Crises

By: Jeff Clark, Senior Precious Metals Analyst

Most of you are convinced of the need to own gold and silver. But as you continue to accumulate, a question naturally arises: how much do you need?

Imagine the sick feeling in your gut if we get to the crisis and you suddenly realize you didn’t buy enough bullion to get through it.

For this reason alone, it’s worth thinking about how many ounces you might need. Traditional financial advice is that gold should comprise 5% or 10% of assets. But Mike and I are convinced that won’t cut it in the turmoil ahead.

What passes for “normal” advice could be financially devastating in abnormal times. If you’ve struggled to determine if you have enough physical gold and silver, I have a practical guide for you.

This measuring stick is a more effective way to gage if your allocation will be sufficient. Which brings up a rather obvious question: o When we sell, what will you do with the proceeds?

There will be plenty of options, from buying undervalued investments to building a family fortune… from buying a vacation home to supplementing your income during the crisis. The point is, you will buy something with those proceeds.

And that is the starting point in knowing if you have enough ounces: will your stash be sufficient to support your standard of living during a major financial disorder? A “major financial disorder” will include inflation, of course, but it’ll be much more than that. The global economy is likely to undergo a series of crises, only one of which will be inflationary.

And those crises won’t resolve quickly. As a result, we need to be prepared to weather all storms that hit our economy, markets, and monetary system, even if they last for several years. We’ll be living through the entire transition period.

And that means we may need to supplement, or fully support, our standard of living. It is with this reality in mind that the following tables were created. I calculated how much gold and silver you would need based on two factors: your monthly expenses, and how long the crisis period lasts.

Here’s the table for gold. If you want to supplement your expenses by $500/month and the crises last three years, you would need about 14 ounces of gold to get through it. [The charts assume the gold price keeps up with inflation, though history shows it is likely to far surpass CPI readings. If so, it’s possible we’d need less than what is shown. It also assumes you pay the taxes from another source.]

If you want to cover $3,000 in monthly expenses, you’d need 45 ounces to meet a crisis period of two years, and 90 ounces if it lasts four years. Those already well off or who want to live like Mike or Alex should use the bottom rows of the table. Of course we own silver too. Here's how many ounces you’d need if you’re using silver proceeds.

A $500/month supplement would need 300 ounces of silver to get through one year, or 1,500 ounces for five years. If you want $3,000/month, you’ll need 1,800 ounces for one year, or 7,200 if it lasts 4 years. Of course we can use both gold and silver to meet expenses.

For $1,000/month, you’ll need nine ounces of gold and 600 ounces of silver to get through a two-year crisis period. These amounts may look high, but keep in mind that if you don't save in gold and silver now, you'll be forced to spend a whole lot more in currency later.

These tables show how practical gold and silver can be. They really can be used to protect our standard of living—and even improve it. So how much gold and silver do you need? I hope these tables show what you need to accumulate.

I hope this helps in your planning. Ken

Thanks for your perspective on antidepressants/anxiolytics over your 33 year career. I'm in PA school and we started our clinical rotations in January of this year. The first day I was in clinic was at a primary care office and all of the patients I saw that first day were in for depression/anxiety. I couldn't believe it. I always like to discuss exercise and life balance before I start a discussion about medications, but to me, 1/2 of the people I talked to were either working extremely long hours or had recently changed their life in a way that they were no longer either exercising, or writing, or playing music, or whatever their 'stress relief' activity was. I was almost stupefied at some of the responses I got, like I'm working 6 12 hour days per week, or I used to exercise by with my new job I don't have time. Simply amazing. These people don't need medication, they need life balance, but somewhere our society has last it's way. BTW, this clinic is located in an middle/upper middle class area of town. 

I sometimes do enjoy being a student because I have much more time with patients than my preceptors. I can actually discuss things like exercise, stress, job, family, whereas the clinicians come in, do their thing, and get out because that is how the system is designed unless you're in direct primary care, which, is a big draw to me after school. 

Thanks again for the perspective. 

Here in Quebec we have the same rise in anxiety drugs prescriptions for the last two decades.
Could the root cause the belief that drugs can fix everything? (Other causes, IMO, are secondary: over-population, social networks pressure, work stress, money, etc…).

Doing a quick search I found these articles suggesting that one big cause is drugs manufacturer's promotion:

Nearly half of all antidepressants not prescribed for depression: Quebec study

Psychiatrist warns against trying to cure ordinary sadness as Canadians among top users of antidepressants




Great comments, thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. RE: dependence on medication, rising depression/anxiety, and life balance–there is a very real (if largely implicit) expectation that people in advanced societies internalize that we "should" be able to "have it all"–a career, ample income, big house, regular meals at fancy restaurants, overseas travel, etc. and that it is a personal failing if we can't "have it all".  That "having it all" now takes a top 5% - 10% income, with all the stress that goes with those jobs, means having it all comes at a severe price. And everyone who internalized that "should" feels like a failure if they can't "have it all."
It was much easier to "have it all" 30 years ago. Housing was affordable, healthcare was affordable, college was affordable and the bar for starting and operating a small business was lower. 

It would help society if "having it all" was redefined, but then that's a heresy/blasphemy, for debt-free Degrowth spells the end of banking/"growth" and that entire economy…

Mark_BC, you raise a very important discussion: the degradation/loss of public spaces that don't cost money to use. Some civic planning observers note that, broadly speaking, public spaces are being privatized or restricted, leaving fewer public social spaces that are free and safe. Big increases in population (all that wonderful "growth") are not matched by increases in public parks and urban social spaces. Many urban areas are virtual deserts in terms of free, safe public social spaces 'regular people" can enjoy.  You want to sit down and people watch? You have to pay to sit in a cafe. Oops, there's no place to sit–the outside seating is all taken.
Many people feel that US cities are becoming "third world" in the sense that major facilities such as airports are dilapidated, poorly maintained, etc. and buses/trains are dirty, overcrowded, don't run on time, etc. Here is the SF Bay Area, voters are being asked to approve $3+ billion bonds to be paid as additional property taxes to fix the BART transit system, and the total cost of necessary work is estimated at $9 billion. meanwhile, BART's costs for labor and labor overhead (pensions and healthcare) are soaring–but you won't hear/read that in the mainstream media because it's considered heresy. The approved solution is always: more taxes and higher fares…

Living in a false story is deeply unsettling to our intuitive sense of Truth.  It doesn't feel right.  We know something is wrong even when we don't know exactly what about it is wrong.  It tears us apart.  On the one hand we have the deep intuitive part that "KNOWS" truth by direct perception.  On the other, our mental model that is showing us something different.  They don't match.  We are disturbed and we don't know WHY.  Something is deeply wrong.

Morpheus: I imagine that right now, you're feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?

Neo: You could say that.

Morpheus: I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that's not far from the truth.

Morpheus:  …   Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Neo: The Matrix.

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?

Neo: Yes.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.


Anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, chronic pain and drug addiction all reduce Productivity due to slower brain, sickness, laziness, death, etc etc.

I am evil… someone told me that yesterday in words I cannot reproduce here… so let's make him happy and be really evil.

Anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, chronic pain and drug addiction all reduce Productivity due to slower brain, sickness, laziness, death, etc etc.
This quote makes me wonder which is best: productivity or submissiveness?

Productivity:(Assuming people are in god shape both physically and mentally). The smart guys like productivity as it fills their pockets. However, there is a risk: too much productivity exhausts people and a backslash is always possible when critical thinking is present.

Submissiveness: (Assuming drugs helps). First, the drugs manufacturers make piles of money. Second, with a permanent state of economic crisis, people expectations are lower. And with the help of drugs, they become less "Alert". So, even if productivity is lower, the populace is still doing what a smart is expecting: produce and shut-up. Low productivity is fine as long as "cost' is low. Was it working this way when enslaving was common, respected and legal practice? And with over-population and high jobless rates, "human resources" become a low cost "commodity".

If I were a smart guy, I would opt for the second option for my lifetime (I don't care about what can happen after me), I pile money and the risk is minimal.

Of course, the few hotheads that arise from time to time are culled (No need to always kill, sometimes just use well crafted information campaigns to isolate them and let them dry).

I am not talking about conspiracy theory… just smart guys using some methods that works. If it works, then they all copy each other.

I know, I am evil…


BE wrote:
"Could the root cause the belief that drugs can fix everything? (Other causes, IMO, are secondary: over-population, social networks pressure, work stress, money, etc…)."

The issue is that pushing drugs is just a quick and easy fix for medical professionials. Its not just mental health but just about everything (Heatbeat, cholesterol, obesity, you name it). Of course Patients also want a quick and cheap fix. its much cheaper, quicker and easier to take a pill than go seek a psychologist, or make personal changes. 

That said, I do believe treating mental symthoms with drugs does not fix the problem Over the long term will result in permanent mental issues. In some cases these drugs cause people to become violent and suidial (ie James Holmes - Mass shooter in Colorado)

There is going to become a time for many of these people that getting access to paying for prescription drugs is going become difficult or impossible. Healthcare costs continue to soar as wages are flat to declining. What happens the milllions that are dependent on prescription drugs can no longer obtain them?


You bring very valid points and ask very legitimate questions. The last one is easy to answer: They will just spiral down and be swiftly designated as the "cause" of societal problems.
In a broader view a society that reached a high level of comfort and security self-destroy. Like what happened to innumerable civilizations before us.

I have read a long time ago an article describing the behavior of people who self-destruct after succeeding in life. Could be that the same pattern apply to societies?


My initial reaction here is that Charles is asking the wrong questions. The question should be 'is somebody at age 30+ who is in the same socio-economic strata as I was…better off now than I was 10 years ago?'
"I" am better off than I was 10 years ago because I've had 10 more years of experience,  I'm 10 years wealthier, I'm older and more respected. I've had 10 long years on earth to improve my situation. That has little to do with the economic climate. In order to judge the economy, you'd have to compare apples to apples.At 20 I wasnt as well off as at 30,  at 40 I am better off than I was at 30, etc. For most people, their situation ( economic, social, etc ) improves with time and experience. We get better at this 'life' thing.

Brushog, I will bet a 30 year old eats burritos so here is a link that may help you answer that question.


If we only judged your question based on burritos then the answer would be "no".



great comment, brushhog, that was my sentiment exactly when i read charles' article.

i'm definitely much wealthier and more stable than 10 years ago, and a bit wiser and happier.

though i'm personally better off in many ways, the country i live in has gone 10 years down the road of corruption and moral decay, infrastructure decay, and debt servitude.

so while it doesn't feel great that my personal fortune is increasing while the world collapses around me, it gives me hope that the collapse is happening; the tired, broken social structures that have betrayed my countrymen need to collapse so something better can come, just like a forest fire is crucial to bringing new life to a forest.

A little while ago Chris recommended a book by a couple of clinical psychologists. Its called 'Healing Emotional Trauma' by L Heller and A LaPierre. My copy arrived from Amazon recently and I'm not finished yet (plus I'm a layman) but my key learning is around the fundamental primacy of the central nervous system.
It's not so much about logic and brain function as us INTJs often assume - our view of the world is largely governed by the totality of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system - of which much activity of unconscious. And discord below the threshold of waking consciousness manifests as anxiety / depression etc above that level. (Sandpuppy and others have said much the same thing too I see.) It seems many of us have a deep knowing about the incongruence/ unsustainability in our lives but our rational minds haven't caught up yet.

Low Wages Higher prices Cheap money to much government ect ect ect now zero rates making Wallstreet threaten the Fed "You better not take our gamble chips away.

Real nice world .


See you in the third world USA

Brushhog, I totally agree that your question is a more apples to apples line of inquiry. That said, I still think the lines of inquiry for individuals who have an additional 10 years' experience is also useful. While many people here in PP.com have advanced due to investments, payoffs from experience, etc., this is by no means universal, judging by media reports such as this: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/09/01/retirement/sIRT23m4MHGkEwXaP8YB9H/story.html In Pa., boomers see the American Dream slipping away

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